Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Regimen meets regiments

The weather in these parts has lately served up (sporadic, unreliable) springtime, so I hopped on my bicycle to pedal to school Monday morning. Another factor in my favor: Multi-use paths web my town, and they're delightfully uncrowded around 6:30 in the morning. Usually.

First sign of trouble: A man standing on the side of the path holding what I surmised to be, as I whizzed by, a stopwatch. Having encountered this scenario before, I knew to expect runners. Seconds later, I came upon the first mob stampeding my way, wearing yellow t-shirts marked with big block blue letters: N-A-V-Y. The Reserve Officers' Training Corps from the nearby university was getting after it this morning. [Side note of interest to English teachers and other word nerds: Corps has the same form whether it's singular or plural, but the pronunciation varies from the singular kor to the plural korz.]

The side note is relevant because it turned out I had more corps with which to contend. [I will avoid a side note editorializing about stilted constructions that result from trying not end a sentence on a preposition.] Having just gotten clear of the yellow fellows, I noticed ahead a group of 50-plus in sporty garb massing impenetrably across the path. ("I need to get a bell," I thought to myself.) I shouted a hearty, "Good morning," which was answered by echoes of: "Bike!" "Bike!" "Bike!" The drab green sea then parted for me to coast through. [Side note: I'm leaving that last preposition right where it is.]

My bike and I gathered speed for a moment until we encountered a third battalion. These young soldiers had on full fatigues, heavy packs, and clomping boots that echoed mightily as they shuffled down the path in time.

"Might the Air Force be somewhere overhead this morning, unseen?" I wondered, picking up my own left-left, left-right-left cadence.

Monday, April 9, 2018

The temperature today

You know that temperature?

The one where it rains early -- snows even --
then clears by midmorning so the world feels rinsed shiny-clean
and the spring sun gleams impossibly bright?

The one where the air is Peppermint Patty cool,
yet you can still feel warm solar fingers on your face?

The one where, if you go out running on a trail that has just had enough time to dry out,
you can't keep from smiling.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Play ball or something else

Before I was a teacher, I was a sports writer, and I still have a softish spot in my heart for that section of the newspaper -- for newspapers as a whole, truthfully, give or take the business pages.

This appreciation for artful writing about games's predictable unpredictability lands April, with its sports smorgasbord, as my favorite calendar month. Among its offerings: the new professional baseball season being unwrapped even as the closing moments of March Madness overrun their eponymous bounds; top-level basketball and hockey leagues upshifting from tedious regular seasons to high-stakes playoffs; and football, which seems to lack any off season of note, ramping up to its annual draft. I might even turn half an eye to the Masters, though golf doesn't rate much above the business pages in my sometimes curmudgeonly estimation.

Yup, it's a heady month to be a sports fan.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Two cinquains, to go - 3.31 #sol18 Story Challenge

my quirkiest
slicing spots: underground
parking garage, poaching feeble

in a
desperate bid,
before driving away,
to file my last first draft of this

Friday, March 30, 2018

O Sol é Para Todos - 3.30 #sol18 Story Challenge

The iron woman turned on Jamie. "Stop screaming," she said crisply. "Stop it this instant. You'll frighten the horses."
Jamie stopped. He looked around. "What horses?"
The iron woman said, "It's a figure of speech." (The War That Save My Life, page 73)
Middle-schoolers and I have been reading To Kill a Mockingbird, and an eighth grader approached me before spring break with the following tidbit: "Mr. Rozinsky, did you know that the book isn't even called To Kill a Mockingbird in Brazil where my mom's from?"

"I had no idea," I replied. "What's it called?"

"In Portuguese, the translation is, 'The Sun Rises for Everyone,' " he told me.

We followed this tangent into how different languages have their own idioms, which usually don't translate without meaning being lost irretrievably. We weighed the impacts of the English and Portuguese alternatives in this case, with the student preferring the less idiosyncratic sun-based one.

I'm curious to hear his latest thinking once he finishes the novel.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

O, Canada - 3.29 #sol18 Story Challenge

There's a lot I like about Canada, and that feeling antedates any sentiments particular to the 2016 election and its aftermath. This good will has only intensified since I saw the TV show Canada Reads for the first time Wednesday.

Five panelists (celebrities, some Canucks might say) take turns over four days championing a book that they believe all Canadians should read. True to reality-programming form, one title is voted off the island each episode by those same panelists until a single book remains as that year's winner. The victor emerged today as I heard repeatedly via CBC radio headlines.

An entire country using its public media to champion communal reading? Canada, you're not my native land, but in this moment, you feel like home.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Going up (continued) - 3.28 #sol18 Story Challenge

Question came up regarding Tuesday's slice: "How high did you go?" To answer, about 7,300 feet.

Today's high point in clearer, drier conditions, 7,700 feet, which led to a run called Discipline -- a fitting title, I figure, near the end of a month when we're trying to write daily.

Another question: "What was it like coming down?" Like simultaneously falling and dancing through airy pudding.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Going up - 3.27 #sol18 Story Challenge

8:04 a.m. - elevation 1,570 feet - At the bus stop in town, it's pouring rain. I'm wondering, skis in hand, "How this going to go?"

8:30 a.m. - elevation 1,680 feet - Shuffling through the gondola's crowded lift line, I notice a few tentative flakes falling amid what might otherwise be drizzle.

8:37 a.m. - elevation 2,440 feet - New gondola car now, having switched at a mid-station transfer. I can hear pecks against the windows from some manner of icy precipitation. Another passenger quips, "I wonder if we'll be able to get out. Car might be frozen shut."

8:46 a.m. - elevation 5,319 feet - The gondola doors do in fact open, and I step out into dumping snow. I drop my skis with two soft whumpfs, fasten my bindings, and head for the next lift that heads even higher up the mountain.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Wolfe at the door - 3.26 #sol18 Story Challenge

One of the titles on my e-reader this spring break is Too Many Cooks, book five in Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe series. I was in the mood for a classic mystery, and a conversation with a bus driver who happens to be an enthusiastic reader (not Mr. Lenticular Clouds) pointed me in this direction. Why the fifth book? That's what the library had for me to borrow. And jumping into the series already underway hasn't proven a problem -- probably a sign that Stout's formula is a winning one.

So far, I'm enjoying the book. Despite (or maybe because of) being published in 1938, it feels simultaneously familiar and witty and fresh. Stout ticks familiar boxes: prickly, idiosyncratic detective; remarkably perceptive second-fiddle sidekick; an inevitable murder perpetrated by someone in the cast of usual suspects, replete with at least one femme fatale and numerous red herrings. Plus, in what I choose to take as an added bonus, there are time-capsule expressions and beliefs that leave no doubt this sometimes politically incorrect story is situated in an era that pre-dates so much momentous 20th century history.

Every generation has its escapist beach reading, and I'm unexpectedly glad to be slumming with my grandparents'.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Getting my fill - 3.25 #sol18 Story Challenge

I've always liked the word 'heuristics.' My understanding is that it has to do with simple rules that form scripts, which can make nifty mental shortcuts or sometimes get us in trouble with assumptions that no longer apply. The word occurred to me today when I went to fill up a car that's not mine and confronted this:
Admittedly, my own automobile has been around quite a few blocks, so we've developed plenty of our own heuristics. Maybe this is now how it is in recent-vintage makes/models -- no gas cap needing to be unscrewed, just a spring-loaded door through which to poke the pump nozzle. Or maybe there's a brave, new, gas cap-less world soon coming to a tank near you.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Temperature tantrum - 3.24 #sol18 Story Challenge

"What's a clerihew?" you ask. "This is," I reply.

The pervasive influence on me of one Daniel Gabriel Fahrenheit
means up North I can't quite get my clothing layers right.
Temperature numbers look colder than they actually feel,
which means I'm getting heated figuring this Celsius deal.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Different kind of cloud-based - 3.23 #sol18 Story Challenge


On the bus, the passenger in the backwards baseball cap who may or may not be a little drunk, staggers to the front, taking the seat closest to the driver.

"D'you see those clouds?" he asks, his fingers waving vaguely west to the disc-shaped puffs.

"Those are called lenticular clouds," the driver explains. "We often get 'em over the mountains."

"Lunaticular?" the passenger asks.

"LENticular," the driver enunciates.

The passenger strokes his chin and continues sifting the syllables.


On a brown field strewn with fresh plugs of dirt from the aerator still humming laps nearby, players chase Frisbees until someone points and shouts.

"Hey, look at those clouds!" he says.

All of us crane our necks toward the sinewy wisps twisting against an impossibly blue backdrop so high overhead.

"I'm starting to feel dizzy," someone else says.

We all are.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Accidental acronym - 3.22 #sol18 Story Challenge

Clustered in the classroom entryway today, three students and I are reading aloud Night by Elie Wiesel. I hear this from one of the readers: "One day when I don't even know was venting his fury, I happened to cross his path."

Come again? Taking one of the pages that's proven useful from Doug Lemov's Teach Like a Champion, I punch the error. I repeat out loud, "I don't even know was venting his fury," except I change my intonation so it sounds like a question. The by-now familiar subtexts of that question: "Is what you said what you really read? Does that actually make sense?"

"That's what's in the text," the student tells me, "I don't even know."

"It's Idek," another student responds, voice tinged with impatience. "That's somebody's name."

LOL. We all do -- though that's not an expression I've associated before with this Holocaust memoir.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Observation observation - 3.21 #sol18 Story Challenge

Moment during class Tuesday that might not bear repeating, but it's too amusing not to... Students were making pitches proposing ideas for new elective courses. Each speech lasted about two minutes, and individual or paired presenters rotated seamlessly to the front of the room, having been previously briefed on the random order. Whether speaking or listening, students were locked in, especially considering this was the day's final period. Mean time, I was occupied with rubrics where I hastily jotted PVLEGS feedback for later sharing about strengths and struggles I noticed in their delivery. At one point during a presentation, I heard the classroom door close. By the time I looked up, there was no student coming or going, so I redistributed my attention between the rubric and speaker. "Must be a quick, stealthy bathroom trip," I figured, noting the hall pass no longer hanging in its usual spot. A few moments of presenting passed, and then I heard the muffled squawk of a walkie-talkie summoning someone or other to channel two. That's when I realized our assistant principal had been the stealthy one, sliding into an empty seat by the door to observe the proceedings informally.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Inception - 3.19 #sol18 Story Challenge

I don't dream much, or at least I can't remember most of the times I do, so this morning's early hours were memorable.

I realized I was in a dream. It involved a conversation with two other people who were simultaneously familiar and unfamiliar. We were seated around a non-descript living room. (I recall a couch with plaid fabric.) We were talking about ski trips. During the chat, I had a distinct thought: "This moment is not happening; I'm actually sleeping in my bed right now."

That intrusive idea proved enough to stir me. I rolled over, checked the alarm clock, which reported some hour that started with a four, and then I rolled back again, content to doze off again for hours.

Minutes later, though, the radio blared, startling me awake for good. I felt disoriented. I wondered how I'd been cheated out of those hours of sleep. Then, I realized the likely truth: my alarm-clock check had been a misleading dream within my dream.

As I said, I don't dream much but, when I do, I get my money's worth

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Containment strategy - 3.18 #sol18 Story Challenge

Saturday night, I watched a movie. It was about water, love, and how neither can be contained forever. Sunday afternoon, I caught a few minutes of a podcast about a wall that (depending on whom you ask) does and does not exist between the Koreas.

Both texts seem to advocate letting water, in all its literal and metaphorical forms, find its own level. Put another way: Let people figure out their own shapes versus boxing them in.

Such forces of containment are writ large in each text: government, family, media, culture, habit, to name a few. While these exert pressure on me, too, on my mind's periphery lately are boxes I don't -- can't? -- see, implicit biases hemming in my identity for now.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

New shoes - 3.17 #sol18 Story Challenge

Took a new pair of running shoes out on the trail this morning, which sent me thinking back to ghosts of footwear past...

My first pair of racing shoes in high school, their splash of color like the Miami Dolphins out of place on grimy trails.

Another favorite pair from that era, reissued in recent years in same bright red, now (gulp) labeled 'vintage' or 'classic.'

The beefy pair that trundled up and over Imogene Pass; the svelte pair that glided up and down the Seven Sisters.

These footwear flashbacks got me thinking about a tagline from nearly 30 years ago: Mars Blackmon may have been on to something.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Buzzer beater - 3.16 #sol18 Story Challenge

I'm vegging out in front of college basketball when a thought occurs: "You haven't written a slice yet today." My eyes flash to the cable-box clock. It's 9:30. I'm not panicked; coolly, I set fingertips to keys so my self-styled streak may proceed.

Can't say the same for #1 seeds in the NCAA tournament. "Guess we've seen it all now," muses broadcaster Jim Spanarkel. Hardly. Whether dribbled or written, that's still why we play the games, to see what there is to see -- including 15 more rounds in this Story Challenge.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Dawn patrol - 3.15 #sol18 Story Challenge

That meeting I had this morning necessitated catching an earlier bus to work. Turns out the silver lining of this schedule change was actually a range of different colors: pink salmon, warm orange, purple haze, then azure gradations from cornflower to cobalt.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

March Madness - 3.14 #sol18 Story Challenge

There's something I appreciate about the clarity of a 64- (or 68-) team bracket that will sift opponents over about two weeks until just one winner remains standing. It comforts -- like a 

favorite security blanket -- on a day buffeted by students walking out to take a principled stand,

pi’s digits spinning out with no apparent end,

and the unexpected departure

of a


Revision Decision: Taking a page from Andy Schoenborn's blog, I wanted to reflect on the ultimate shape of today's slice. What began as nondescript prose became something different when I started playing around with verse forms. What if I revised the initial draft and started grouping words in brackets of 32, 16, 8, 4, 2, 1?

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Rhetorical tanka - 3.13 #sol18 Story Challenge

"You should run your life not by the calendar, but by how you feel." -John Glenn

Why has this meeting
popped up on my calendar,
its cryptic topic
vexing me with vague questions,
creeping sense I'm unprepared?

Monday, March 12, 2018

Times literally changin' - 3.12 #sol18 Story Challenge

Last week, after months of dialogue, school leaders where I teach officially announced we will be changing our schedule. We will operate with eight periods, rather than seven, and more block periods will be another notable feature. Based on what's known so far, here's a quick vision of now versus later (numbers inside boxes represent minutes):
My feelings are mixed, though more positive than negative. The opportunity to rethink learning with students -- including the many variables of curricula, classwork, homework, assessments, and related pedagogies -- feels full of possibilities. That thrill is matched, for me, by trepidation about making workable changes ready to roll out in August. Questions are far outstripping answers at this point, and I'm skeptical that enough resources (including time) will be formally allotted to sift the former in search of the latter.

So, here are two actions steps I'm taking...

  • Responding to an expedited call for elective proposals by guiding students to create and evaluate their own in our English classes leading up to Spring Break
  • Asking this big virtual room of experts about your experiences that might prove instructive: What winning electives do your schools offer? What are some ways you and your students get the most from block schedules/periods?
Thanks for contributing slices of your expertise as you're able!

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Hearts of darkness - 3.11 #sol18 Story Challenge

Poking deep into a defunct silver mine tunnel above Batopilas, Mexico
Forgetting about the walnuts (until I smelled them) in the ticking toaster
Holding breath as theater lights drop, before movie screen's initial flicker
Sipping on an angled snifter of Perennial Artisan Ales' 17 imperial stout
Peeling my eyes open to night this first morning of daylight saving time

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Son of a pun - 3.10 #sol18 Story Challenge

Today, I finished reading The Pun Also Rises by John Pollack, a title I noticed in an eighth grader's hands a few weeks back. For word-play fans, it's a treat replete with examples, history, and analysis.

My dad (who regularly reads what I write here) remains an inveterate punster, so the quote I'm plucking from page 80 is for him. It originally appears in Thomas Sheridan's 1719 Ars Punica:
Punning, of all arts and sciences, is the most extraordinary: for all others are circumscribed by certain bounds; but this alone is found to have no limits, because, to excel therein requires a more extensive knowledge of all things, A punner must be a man of the greatest natural abilities, and of the best accomplishments: his wit must be poignant and fruitful, his understanding clear and distinct, his imagination delicate and cheerful...
To that I say -- and I suspect my mom (who also reads what I write here and regularly rolls her eyes at my dad's jokes) would agree -- just because punning has no limits doesn't mean it shouldn't. Here's a quote for mom, in which Pollack posits that audiences often groan at puns, "because it's a quick convenient shorthand for conveying a tangle of emotions" (111).

Hope you two laugh birds are enjoying chuckles, among other mixed emotions, with this chip off the old blog.

Friday, March 9, 2018

Semi-autonomous vehicle - 3.9 #sol18 Story Challenge

While I marvel in many ways at this era's smart technology, the cynic in me frets about how it's making me dumber. Case in point: I used to remember phone numbers, and now I don't. Perhaps that's not the finest indicator of smarts, yet it's why I'm glad my car doesn't have a navigation system. That means my sense of direction and map-reading abilities may last longer than they might otherwise, or so my slipshod thinking goes.

That context hopefully illuminates my mixed feelings Thursday night when I pedaled through unfamiliar streets, heading west from Stapleton towards Union Station in downtown Denver. Daylight dwindled as I raced to catch the next transit bus I hoped would take me most of the miles home. In my jacket pocket, my phone with the volume turned all the way up chirped directions from a map app, loud enough to be heard over both wind and ticking gears.

A prim digital voice kept me on track or made immediate course corrections when I went astray -- like when I followed a signed turn to the station only to realize what would've been great if I were driving a car was too dangerous for a boy on a bike in the dark. My pocket computer coaxed me back to safety through some manner of seamless GPS magic, and I made the bus, where it felt decadent to have an open spot next to me so my chagrin had somewhere to sit.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Very superstitious - 3.8 #sol18 Story Challenge

To all those in the East who slept in your inside-out pajamas with spoons tucked under your pillows, or flushed ice cubes down your toilets, or performed elaborate snow dances, I hope you are snuggled in, safe and sound, and I thank you.

Your powerful mojo has sent unexpected ripples west: In these parts, though today's forecast calls for sun and temperatures in the 60s, school's closed.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Stop & smell the proses - 3.7 #sol18 Story Challenge

Tuesday, an eighth grader shared with me a digital vocabulary table that she'd been building for her own edification based on choice reading. She'd arranged columns showing in what book a new-to-her word appeared, its definition, the original sentence for context, and a new sentence that she created. Warmed my logophile's heart. Then I came across this entry:
Text: Monument 14 - Page 146
Word: pall
Definition: become less appealing or interesting through familiarity
Sentence in book: And the three laughed and palled around all during dinner.
Create a sentence!: Paul palled as we carried on through the conversation.
I made a face like one used to make when a record or CD skipped: Something didn't sound right. As the student and I unpacked, the book sentence featured the past tense of 'pal' (its suffix dictating a quirky doubled consonant) while the student's hasty dictionary work had fastened on to 'pall,' a definition that infected her new sentence. I later learned the latter comes from Middle English for 'cloak' and filters into usages like pall bearer or casting a pall on an otherwise happy event. The former is from Romany by way of Sanskrit for 'brother,' yet gets disguised by the extra 'L' to dodge confusion with 'paled.'

Thus, we end up with delicious knots like: His relatives paled when Paul palled around loudly with his friends at the funeral to alleviate the pall that hung over everyone. Thanks, English; your wonders never cease.

Monday, March 5, 2018

This desperate slicer's topic: weather - 3.6 #sol18 Story Challenge

The state where I live features generally temperate weather. (We tout 300 days of sunshine annually, after all.) That said, sometimes it blows.

A cold front ripped through in the past 48 hours, stirring up winds of 30-40 miles per hour, with gusts 10-20 MPH faster. According to one local news outlet, 90 flights experienced delays at our largest airport due to wind along with another 65 cancellations. The state issued red-flag warnings for increased fire danger in these dry, blustery conditions, and crews had to scramble to contain at least two quick-spreading brush blazes. On the walk to lunch at mid-day, I watched the wind yank off one eighth-grader's cap, yet he he was miraculously able to grab the hat in mid-air before it sailed to Kansas. I'm not sure which looked more remarkable: his satisfied grin or the pompadour of his wind-whipped hair.

Acronym anagram - 3.5 #sol18 Story Challenge

Thanks to joining Twitter two-plus years ago, I started participating in education chats. Through one of those, I re-connected with Kathleen Sokolowski, which led me to Two Writing Teachers and regular Slice of Life contributions. Through another one of those exchanges (#sunchat), I revisited a frequent topic in virtual and actual circles: fear of missing out -- a.k.a. FOMO -- that feeling of obligation to participate, likely overextending oneself, or otherwise miss the proverbial party. To avoid stoking any FOMO now, here's part of that thread:

By yesterday afternoon, thanks to more time in the car, I started mentally turning over different and better acronym alternatives to GWIC. My favorite, so far: MOFO, many opportunities for osmosis.

Any time I opt to dip a toe into Twitter's stream, whether for chat participation or just to sample the ideas flowing by at that moment, I learn something. If I choose other channels sometimes or simply to tune out and recharge, those options are okay, too. Equally acceptable is the occasional binge, like the Slice of Life Story Challenge.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Things fall apart - 3.4 #sol18 Story Challenge

While much of my teaching work-flow has shifted digital in recent years, I still keep a paper plan book. How long that will continue, I don't know. What I do know is that as the calendar turns towards spring each school year, the cover of my plan book starts to fail. The paper perforations give up the ghost one hole-punch at a time until the cover is hanging askew by a few tenacious threads. Eventually, the cover falls off completely.  This tends to happen at some point in April (after spring break), signaling in one quirky way the sprint to summer. This year, though, that plan-book milestone passed in the waning days of February -- just a few days before the plastic loop split that once helped fasten my school-issued name badge to my shirt or belt. These harbingers feel ever-so-slightly ominous, though I'm not sure if these shadows cast backwards over time that's passed or forward to days to come.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Checklist manifesto - 3.3 #sol18 Story Challenge

Friday night reminded me there are few necessities for a road trip (besides a trusty vehicle and a driver with stamina), but at least eight luxuries worth craving:

  • Pretzels
  • M&M's
  • Dry roads
  • Full tank
  • Empty bladder
  • Wide-eyed moon
  • Lively conversation
  • Radio reception

Friday, March 2, 2018

Banff bookends - 3.2 #sol18 Story Challenge

In the first week of March, the Banff Mountain Film Festival came to me. I saw French aerialists surfing a zip-line hundreds of feet above dense forest. I met Apa Sherpa and learned of his quest to enhance education for young people in his native Nepal. ("Without education, we have no choice," he says.) I gawked at a mountain-bike rider pedaling above and underground, over snow and ice. I joined a trio of kite-skiers/kayakers on an unprecedented expedition across untrammeled Greenland. I sat in the cockpit with an Alaskan bush pilot and her young daughter. I marveled at Kilian Jornet, powered mainly by four Snickers bars, jogging and skiing across numerous Norwegian peaks. I cheered both for Nubian ibex as they scrambled up and down steep cliffs to evade a predatory fox and for Maureen Beck as she persevered with her one-legged partner to climb a challenging 5.12 route, single-handed.

In the last week of March, I'll actually be in Banff where I'm predicting tamer adventures.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

The Charm - 3.1 #sol18 Story Challenge

The Two Writing Teachers community and its challenges have proven to be a charm for my own writing life. For the past two years, I've committed words to screen at least once per week and once per day in March, and now it's my third time accepting March's Story Challenge.

Amid this taking stock, here's what I realized: The Slice of Life blogging habit coaxes me to create nearly 70+ posts per year, and 31 of those are supposed to materialize this month. I'd be lying if I said that's not freaking me out just a little, and yet I'd be telling the truth if I admitted I felt the same way the two previous years.

Just like the bumper sticker says, "The only way out is through." So alright, let's write.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Quote & hopeful postscript

Last week, having followed a book recommendation from a Twitter connection, I finished The Mezzanine by Nicholson Baker. This line, among several, stuck with me:
[T]he corporate bathroom is the one place in the whole office where you understand completely what is expected of you. (71)
Excising 'corporate' from this quotation and replacing 'office' with 'school' gives a surprisingly accurate -- if snarky -- summation of my professional footing in the closing days of February's seismic grind.

p.s. Maybe writing daily in March as part of the Slice of Life Challenge will help me distill expectations moving forward into spring...

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Progress sells, apparently

I'm parked on the couch, kidding myself that I'm multitasking with work and the Winter Olympics. And a plant-based milk commercial with this tagline just pilfered my attention: "Progress is perfection."

Is it? the teacher in me wonders. (If so, how much? Does any progress qualify?)

Or what if 'perfection' actually proves problematic and, once we attach that label to an endeavor, it sets us up for misguided competitions -- us to each other, our work to everyone else's, all aspiring to a punishingly elusive ideal? Even standards-based or mastery learning, while celebrating progress, don't hold it up as the ultimate goal.

Besides plying me to try non-dairy milks as part of my dietary routine, does the tagline's context matter? What if "progress is perfection" only when the alternative is for Ray, the every-man swimmer featured in the spot, to compare his recreational pool splits to elite Olympian Michael Phelps? When all the players are amateurs, does progress still qualify as perfection?

Even if it doesn't, perhaps it can be a panacea for how we've traditionally prioritized grades in education. As the car commercial that flashed onscreen before I pressed publish touted: "Progress is performance when it counts."

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

10 drops of #CCIRA18 conference knowledge

I brought myself to the Annual Conference hosted by CCIRA last week. Here are a few quotable glimpses of what I took away:

1. “Bring your new self to your thinking as you read farther.” --Maggie B. Roberts

Why this matters: The best reading experiences aren't static. They change us and how we see what we're reading.

2. “Listen for ideas that are buildable and build them up.” --Jeff Zwiers

Why this matters: Unlock power of communicating collaboratively with each other, rather than popcorning disconnected ideas past each other.

3. “If we’re the only teacher for our students, then we’re not doing it right... We don’t have to be limited by our own knowledge and expertise to support what students are interested in.” --Meenoo Rami

Why this matters: Connecting -- virtually or actually -- is more powerful than it is risky.

4. “When you tell your child, you can’t read [Insert Title they're rereading incessantly] for the [umpteenth] time, you’re saying they can’t spend time with a best friend. When you say, don’t read [Insert Title to which you object for any number of reasons], you’re kind of saying I don’t want you to be a reader.” --John Schumacher

Why this matters: Good intentions can be unintentionally stifling. Remember to exert influence with care and two-way conversations.

5. “Blog to the job you want, not the job you have.” --George Couros

Why this matters: Looking forward unleashes untapped power, in blogging and elsewhere.

6. “As long as you write better than your students, you’ll have it made [in a writing conference].” --Aimee Buckner

Why this matters: Teachers are learners, too, and learners can be teachers.

7. “If it’s important to you, you’ll find a way; if not, you’ll make an excuse.” --Eric Sheninger

Why this matters: Identifying (and prioritizing) what matters is essential, even as we understand this target can move. Reflect regularly on current direction; adjust course when needed.

8. “What you think you’re doing changes how you interact with children and how you interact with children changes everything.” --Peter Johnston

Why this matters: Perception can be tremendously influential. When in doubt, fake it [optimism, purposefulness] until we can reliably make it!

9. What we write should contain “our emotional truth...Turn yourself inside out in your work to inject your deepest feelings.” --Ruta Septetys

Why this matters: When we don't care about what we're writing (or making or doing), nobody else will. Fortunately, the converse is usually true.

10. A writer's notebook can't be "too precious." --Linda Urban

Why this matters: Beware of taking our work too seriously, protecting it too much. If it's messy or ragged from being over-handled, that probably means we're getting the most use and benefit from it.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Crisis of Conscience, low-stakes edition

I like to believe I define my identity through what I say and do. At best, this is partly true since, in moments both big and small, forces I neither understand nor control exert their influences on me. Exhibit A: the trivial matter that confronted me around dawn Monday.

As happens some workday mornings, I had to run to catch a bus. I made it, and the bus turned out to be late. That gave me a few minutes to grimace to myself about Murphy's Law. It also meant while pacing around the bus stop, which abuts a gas station. I started noticing trash on the ground: an empty bottle of Powerade, an open milk pint, empty wrappers from Hostess products.

Enter: my conscience. See, I've trained it this school year to prompt me to pick up and throw away trash, especially on the walk into school from the closest stop where I exit the bus. How did I train it? Through repetition, stooping to pick up detritus rather than passing it by has apparently created a persistent habit.

And that habit was now speaking up. "You can't leave that garbage there," it nagged.

"Why not?" I imagined my ego protesting. "I'm not responsible for every piece of trash I meet."

"Why shouldn't you be?" parried my conscience.

"Not my appointed rounds," I said. "I don't usually use this stop. Besides there's no trash can. What do you expect me to do -- put that crap in my bag to carry until I reach the bin at school?"

And then I saw, through the darkness, across the street on the corner, a large trash-bin shadow, recognizable as a newly installed unit with spaces for recycling, compost, and landfill rubbish.

"The bus is coming any moment," I offered lamely. But it wasn't.

My last rationalizations drifted away with the sigh I expelled. I scooped up the wrappers, the plastic bottle, and the carton (pouring out some liquid and pointlessly rattling a frozen milk chunk that refused to shake out) and scampered across the street -- a good Samaritan jay-walker -- to deposit each item in its respective receptacle. Compulsion may never have felt so good.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Annals of Commuting (I can't believe it's not a run-on sentence #4)

Remember that time you were testing the range of your electric bicycle, newly purchased during what may or may not have been a mid-life crisis, and you pedaled 13 miles to work no problem and made it another six miles to reach an afternoon meeting at another district school the next town over and then you had to make it home 15 more miles in the fast-falling dark, cheering the unseasonably warm temperatures while cursing the gusty headwinds that sapped your battery's strength, and you reached the city limits, less than two miles from your final destination, when the dashboard notified you the motor would be taking the rest of the evening off (note to self: range is about 33 miles), kindly leaving head- and tail-lights shining thanks to a few drips of auxiliary juice and cruelly leaving you feeling all 50 sluggish pounds of the bicycle's weight as you slowly cranked the pedals towards home -- you know, that time earlier tonight when you realized you now had something you could write a slice about?

Monday, January 22, 2018

Mentionables: An Allegory, Maybe

I estimate I've been doing laundry for about a quarter century. The last decade of that stretch has involved a stacked Kenmore washer-dryer wedged into a closet. It's a fairly rote operation with minimal variation. At least, it had been until Monday night when I noticed something new:
There, in the top left, a clothes-hanger icon below a triangular plastic nose, the nose practically begging to be pulled on, so I did. And voila:
An unexpectedly sturdy metal arm now protruded at my disposal. I paused to muse, "Might my mundane chore hang [pun probably intended] on the verge of some quantum leap?" I glanced from dryer unit to laundry basket and back again. My eyes took in the limited room for folding and stacking clean clothes -- few of which actually required any hangers. Clearly, the fine engineers at Kenmore had aimed too low in labeling their space-saving innovation.

"Eureka!" I should've shouted for what was it really but a strategic sock sorting rod.